One Year Later
Hillel Day School begins the year debt-free and optimistic about the future.
Special to the Jewish News
ou couldn't see any words on the students' T-shirts and no one was
wearing stretchy gym pants with drawstrings.
But most of the sixth-graders at the outdoor classroom behind Hillel
Day School of Metropolitan Detroit echoed the words of 11-year-old Jessi
Kahn of West Bloomfield: "I'm fine with the dres code. I've got cute clothes
The new dress code is only one of the changes brought to Hillel by Steve
Freedman, who took over as Hillel head of school in August 2003. And it's
nowhere near the most important.
"Hillel always had a dress code, but the administration and faculty felt
strongly that the old dress code didn't meet Jewish standards," Freedman said.
"When we study in the presence of God, we look a certain way. The kids are
now beautiful inside and out."
The sixth-grade students were out in the broiling sun on Sept. 23, the day
before Yom Kippur, to learn about the tradition of kapporot, or atonement.
"This custom is one of the oldest customs we have," explained Rabbi Chaim
Klainberg. "The concept is we are asking God to forgive us for the sins we did
during the year.
"It may look silly," he said, holding a squawking chicken under its wings,
"but imagine all your averot — all your sins — are being transferred to this
More recently, Jews have contributed money to the hungry as their kapporot,
and Hillel students raised more than $3,000 for Yad Ezra, the Detroit area's
kosher food bank. But it was the experience with the chickens that made an
No Debts; Plenty of New Ideas.
That's the kind of experience Freedman, a Philadelphia native, wants to bring
to Hillel students — a hands-on Jewish experience that reaches the children
where they are developmentally and gives them a greater appreciation for
Jewish life and culture.
Since Freedman's appointment, Hillel, a Conservative-movement school serv-
ing students in kindergarten through eighth grade, has reworked its middle
school curriculum and its Judaic studies program. The science room, dedicated
by the Schostak family in memory of Jimmy Caplan, was renovated with funds
from Elliot and Denise Baum. The art room also has been completely rebuilt.
Most notably, the school, after running in the red for the past several years,
begins the new year completely debt-free.
"That happened through incredibly hard work by our president, Terri Farber
Roth, and other dedicated members of the Hillel community," Freedman said.
"Not one penny was put on our parents' backs."
Along with raising money for the school's annual campaign for scholarships,
Roth asked for donations to retire the debt, Freedman said. Hillel's tuition was
Hillel's grant from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit this year
will be $574,200. Annual tuition at the school is $11,600, with about 30 per-
cent of the students receiving financial assistance. Every year, the school gives
out more than $1 million in financial assistance, Freedman said, with scholar-
ship funds coming from private donations, the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit and the Shiffman Family Day School Tuition Assistance
Fund, which is administered by Federation.
Roth and Freedman have been asked to speak at this year's donor assembly of
the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), the Boston-based
initiative of philanthropists devoted to strengthening Jewish day school educa-
Clockwise from top: Debbie May and Adi Smorgonsky, both 11 and of West
Bloomfield, particpate in kapporot with monetary donations.
Saul Rube holds the students' donations during kapporot.
Rabbi Chaim Klainberg demonstrates the kapporot atonement ritual.
tion in North America.
Roth will talk about board leadership and development issues. Freedman's topic, cre-
ating a vital middle school, is one he devoted much of his time to last year.
Grades 6-8 at the Farmington Hills school were formerly known as the upper school.
Along with the name change, middle school principal Sue Shlom and assistant princi-
pal Alita Cyrlin have been adopting numerous "best practices" endorsed by the
National Middle School Association.
Among the changes are team teaching, with related curricula taught across subject
areas; block scheduling, giving a single teacher or a team of teachers 90 minutes for in-
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